As a child, there were occasions when I read new words, but I didn’t quite know how they were pronounced. This was because I hadn’t heard them being used in conversation. On occasion, when I mispronounced them in front of someone, the strange looks on the recipient’s face was a sight to behold.


Here are five words that I mispronounced:

  1. Whodunit – This word was employed in the context of murder mysteries. I thought that this word should be broken up as “whod-unit”. I pronounced it as “Woad Unit” or “Hoad Unit” or “Whoad Unit”. Even after I had finished reading almost every Agatha Christie murder mystery, I still did not know how this was pronounced. I later heard someone pronounce it as “Hoo Dun It”. Ah – this was how the word was supposed to be pronounced. I still didn’t get the import behind the word. Then one day it struck me! “Who Dun It”! Who had “dun” the murder! Aha. It all made perfect sense finally!
  2. Precisely – I was very young, and read a comic book, where one character made a statement of fact, and the other character affirmatively remarked “Precisely!” I wanted to employ this particular tactic to impress my Mom. I made some statement which could not be characterized as anything resembling a fact, and I backed up my own “fact” with an enthusiastic “Pricelessly!”. The only thing priceless about this was my Mom’s expression of bewilderment!
  3. Rendezvous – When preparing for a spelling bee, I was told that the word was pronounced “Ren-duh-vou”. I later learned that this was more commonly pronounced “Ron-day-vou”.
  4. Envelope – To this day I am confused – is it “En-ve-lup” or “On-ve-lup”? 
  5. Imbroglio – In a bridge humor book called “Masters and Monsters” authored by one of the all time great bridge author and humorist Victor Mollo, one chapter began with a “legal imbroglio” at the bridge club. My curiosity piqued, I proceeded to read further, to see what the dispute could be. Only to find that the “imbroglio” was whether to play bridge with the card pack with the blue back, or the card pack with the red back. I found Mollo’s usage of language to be brilliant. And inspired by it, I started using the word imbroglio instead of using the word “conundrum” or even “situation”. I would stress the ‘g’ in my pronunciation. “Im-broggg-lio” I would enunciate. Only to find out later that the g is silent! The word is pronounced “Im-broil-yo” or “Im-Bro-lyo”. (Sometimes, instead of imbroglio, embroglio is used, with the same meaning). To this day, I love saying “Im-broggggggggg-lio” rather than the correct “Im-broil-yo”!


When I went from India to the US, in addition to people having trouble pronouncing my name, I too mispronounced several names. Thankfully, a lot of this happened inside my head, and I didn’t mispronounce people’s name to their face. Here are 5 names whose pronunciation eluded me:

  1. Joaquin – I first came across this name when I watched The Gladiator – the actor whose brilliant portrayal of the flawed, jealous son of the king, was named Joaquin Phoenix. I pronounced this name “Joe-Quin” in my head. Only when I watched an interview with this actor on TV, I learned that his name was pronounced “Waa-Keen”.
  2. Francois – The first name of one of the teachers in my college was Francois. Was this pronounced “Fran-kaw-yis” or “Fran-saw-yis”? Not even close, as I would find out. “Fran-su-aaa”, was the pronunciation. More like “Fran-swaaaa”. 
  3. Jan – This should be easy, right? Jan as in January? If it was a European first name, I was told it should be pronounced “Yaan”. Ok, sir. As I got it into my head that the ‘J’ should be pronounced as a ‘Y’, I had a coworker, who was American, and he pronounced his first name “Jan” as in January. Okay – if the person is an American whose name is Jan, I pronounce the ‘J’ as usual. What if the person was from European descent but an American for all practical purposes? What an imbroglio!

    Speaking of ‘Yaan’:

  4. Chloe – I thought this had the “Ch” sound as in ‘charity’, and ‘low’. ‘Ch-low’. Nope. The first sound is a ‘Kh’ with the k being a raspy sound, followed by “Low” and ending with an “Eee”. The pronunciation is “Kh-Low-Eee”.
  5. Gertrude/Gertie/Gerstman – While reading the Hardy Boys as a kid, I came across aunt Gertrude. I thought this was pronounced with a soft ‘G’, like “George”. When I was mispronouncing “Gerstman” with a soft ‘G’, my friend corrected me with the correct pronunciation – the ‘G’ was hard as in “Gallop”.

Do you have any interesting pronunciation stories to share?

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